Medical chief urges Stormont to act on health equality gap
The subject of health inequality must be addressed by the Government, Northern Ireland's top doctor has demanded.
In the ninth annual Chief Medical Officer's report, Michael McBride also said that although people were living longer, lifestyle choices were key to better health.
He highlighted that dental health among five-12-year-olds was improving, and that young people were less likely to become smokers.
Among other key points in the 2015 report was the importance of taking folic acid for women planning to get pregnant, work to help prevent accidents in the home, risks posed by increased resistance to antibiotics, and initiatives to improve the quality of care provided to patients in their own home as well as in hospital.
He referred to psychoactive substances - so-called legal highs - as a new challenge.
However, Dr McBride noted the continued trend towards better overall health of the population.
"Improving health is something that is not enjoyed equally, especially among those living in the most disadvantaged areas, and this is something Government must continue to address."
He also noted the gap in life expectancy for people living in deprived areas compared to those from less deprived areas.
Female healthy life expectancy in the most deprived areas was 14.1 years lower than the least deprived areas, while the gap for males was 11.8 years.
Alcohol consumption also remains a serious issue in Northern Ireland, with one in five adults consuming above the recommended level.
Dr McBride said: "I know that quality of healthcare is not the only determinant of good health. It is for that reason that I have chosen this year's report to lay particular emphasis on the lifestyle choices we make and the impact of these on our general health."
He welcomed legislation in Westminster to counter the sale and distribution of psychoactive substances, while at the same time welcoming legislation in Northern Ireland to allow for the banning of smoking in cars carrying children.
"The health of our children must continue to be a priority.
"I was particularly pleased that the Northern Ireland Assembly introduced legislation to allow the department to ban smoking in cars. I look forward to its introduction, which will protect children from exposure to tobacco smoke.
"I am also pleased that in 2015 we were able to introduce two new vaccination programmes to provide protection against different strains of meningococcal infection that can cause meningitis," he said.